Les Carpenter says farewell
Only slightly Mariner related, but Les Carpenter wrote his final piece for the Times today, as he has taken a job with the Washington Post. Les didn’t write about the Mariners very often, as he mostly covered the Seahawks, but he was one of the better writers the Times had, and I wanted to give him something of a USSM sendoff. So, without further ado, my Les Carpenter story, usually referred to as The Brian Hunter Debacle.
On April 28th, 1999, the Mariners sent Andy Van Hekken and Jerry Amador to the Tigers for Brian Hunter, a speedy “leadoff hitter” and left fielder that the team had been chasing. I use the term hitter pretty loosely, as Hunter had managed a .254/.298/.333 line the previous season, and was hitting .236/.311/.309 at the time of the trade. He was basically the offensive equivalent of Willie Bloomquist, but because he was fast, he managed to squeeze 1200 at-bats out of the Tigers in ’97 and ’98. They finally realized he sucked and sent him to Seattle. Our little community of Mariner fans were, well, pissed.
On April 29, 1999, as a project for my senior year, I had a job shadow with Les Carpenter. At this point, I was pretty serious about becoming some kind of sports reporter, and Les was kind enough to let me hang out with him for the day. I got to his office in the morning and we talked for a while. Since he was the NFL writer, though, there wasn’t a whole lot going on, and he suggested we head over to the Kingdome for the afternoon game between the M’s and Tigers. He wanted to get some quotes from the M’s new leadoff hitter, and it would give me a chance to watch some “real interviews”. So we trekked over to the ‘Dome in the morning and started making the reporter rounds.
On the way, Les and I spend most of our conversation talking about the Hunter trade. I’m vehemently against it, explaining how Hunter’s remarkable penchent for making outs is going to sink the offense, meaning that Edgar and A-Rod and Jr are going to be coming up with nobody on far too often. Les is more optimistic; he likes Hunter’s speed and thinks he can be a Vince Coleman style sparkplug at the top of the order. I try my best to convince Les that Hunter’s OBP is a sinkhole, but its to no avail. We eventually settle on the “we’ll see” point of view.
So, we’re down on the field, hanging out, Les is collecting a few quotes, and out comes to the newest Mariner left fielder. There’s not much of a crowd, so Les and I head over to talk to Hunter. In something of a surprise, Les asks me if I want to ask the questions, and I easily agree. He introduces me to Hunter, explains whats going on, and we proceed with the interview. Les handed me about 5 or 6 questions he wanted to ask, and said I could throw in one or two of my own at the end if I got comfortable. So, we start off talking, the typical new player interview, with questions about Detroit and the trade and his feelings. The last question on Les’ list is about what Hunter feels like he can bring to the team, and his response led to my two questions. I’ll paraphrase the conversation below; since this was 6 years ago, the exact wording might be a llittle off, but it went something like this:
Dave: Okay, Brian, the Mariners have been looking for a leadoff hitter for years. What do you think you’ll bring to the team?
Brian: Well, I think I’m one of the best in the game. I’m a basestealer, and I put the offense in motion. I get in scoring position for the big guys to drive me in. I’m a tablesetter.
Dave, launching into my first question not written by Les: Well, you almost never walk, so you don’t get in scoring position that often, right?
Brian, realizing this isn’t so much a question as an assault: Umm, I don’t get paid to walk.
Dave: Yes, we’ve seen that. So how do you plan on stealing first base?
Brian: Mother$#@*^ing kid. Get the #@$! out of here.
And thus ended my interview with Brian Hunter. Les thought the whole thing was funny, though told me that I was way out of line. So, we made our way to the press box, where I continued to tell anyone who would listen that Hunter was going to ruin the Mariners offense.
The Mariners won 22 to 6 that day, as Hunter went 3 for 6, stole a base, and, as the entire press box agreed, ignited the offense.